Pharma reps now need $750 marketing licenses to beat the streets in Chicago

Rahm Emmanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the pharma rep license as a tool against opioid abuse.

It’s official: To promote drugs in Chicago, you’ll need a $750 license—and some serious record-keeping skills.

The Chicago City Council approved an ordinance last week that requires pharmaceutical sales reps to obtain special licenses before promoting their drugs within the city limits. Reps also must track their interactions with doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the measure in October, claiming it would help curb opioid abuse. Emanuel has cited “deceptive marketing” for contributing to epidemic abuse, and the city has sued a range of painkiller makers for damages.

Needless to say, drugmakers aren’t happy with the new rules, and several of them teamed up with patient groups and PhRMA to protest the ordinance ahead of its passage, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In a letter to the council, 16 drugmakers—including Horizon Pharma and Pfizer—and other groups had called the license a "harmful tax increase" and said they'd rather have a "meaningful dialogue" with the city about the opioid crisis.

Separately, in July, Pfizer and the city agreed to a painkiller marketing code. The marketing agreement could potentially be used as a model for other drugmakers selling the highly addictive opioid drugs.

The city’s licensing proposal goes far beyond Pfizer’s code of conduct, which, according to the company, essentially reflects its current marketing rules.

By licensing sales reps and using them to gather information on their visits to and contacts with doctors, the city hopes to identify worrisome trends and prevent misleading promotions. Reps will be required to track their marketing activities in detail, noting all contacts with healthcare professionals, the drugs discussed, marketing materials handed out, and samples distributed. They must also note whether doctors are paid for their time.

The city can then demand access to those records as desired, or set up standard reporting periods.

Plus, reps will have to participate in five hours of training every year, including brush-ups on ethics, rules, and safety. And they’ll be prohibited from “deceptive or misleading” marketing. The licenses have to be renewed every year.

Pharma companies say Chicago’s rules aren’t necessary; after all, pharma marketing is already heavily regulated. And the $750 annual charge per rep isn’t fair, they say. “These proposed reporting requirements are unnecessary and duplicative, creating an unnecessary tax on one of the most important sectors of our economy," the letter stated.

Meanwhile, the city's lawsuit against several painkiller makers, including Endo, Teva Pharmaceutical and Purdue Pharma, remains pending. The city filed an amended complaint last November.